Theatre review: Savage In Limbo

by **

Dear Dad

When one finds oneself on the wrong side of 30, a miasma of panic and discontentment often creeps in, shrouding one’s sense of identity, unleashing a visceral impulse to act, for change, before time runs out — so to speak.

In part, this is what John Patrick Shanley’s scintillating 1985 play explores. Savage In Limbo is a raucous journey into the minds and lives of people in this demography for whom youth seems to be fading fast, and (dare I say) middle-life seems to suddenly loom near and large.

This piece is quite a bit different from Doubt, or Moonstruck, that shot Shanley to fame, but it shares the same vivid, provocative intelligence that always manages to touch that raw and throbbing nerve.

And here, directed by Mark Wilson, this production displays enormous verve and sympathy, despite faltering audience connection midway through this (otherwise) elegant revival by new theatre company, The HoneyTrap.

The title character is 32-year-old Denise Savage, who is frustrated by her own implacable virginity, and is prepared to do almost anything to be extricated from her (vice-free) rut.

She meets Linda Rotunda and April White, both former high school friends, at the bar on a desolate Monday night.

Linda, a sexpot, is hurting from a fresh breakup with her lover, Tony, a swaggering (if vacuous) stud who has since decided he wants “ugly women” for a change. And April, who is remembered to have once aspired to be a nun, is now slumped over the bar, perpetually inebriated and depressive.

Debbie Zukerman and Celeste Markwell make Denise and Linda (respectively) pugnacious, determined, vulnerable and funny, while Joanne Redfearn is suitably haunting as the “animal”-possessed, yet strangely discriminatory, April.

The staging really connects in places, as the characters talk through their predicament, wrapping up their pain in almost flawless Bronx-inflected articulation.

Wilson also draws out the psychological truth of the drama, and Peter Paltos finds honesty (if not ridicule) in Tony’s fervent quest to be someone else, issuing unrelenting diatribes about wanting to wear different clothes, and to think about things other than “girls, cars, and bed”.

However, the show begins to lose momentum halfway through this 90-minute one-act play, at which point it feels curiously remote, even in this intimate space (tastefully minimalist with a blown-up patchwork image of Reagan as a backdrop), and the characters’ febrile and endless bids for what they do not have become draining.

Still, in one of Shanley’s renown subversions of expectations, a surprisingly moving scene is slipped quietly in, as the hitherto brusquely taciturn bartender, Murk (Gavin Ingham), who nurses a passion for April, launches into a profound soliloquy about the fear and the anxieties of a life unfulfilled and wasted.

The five remarkable performances draw us to an unsettling ending that — after acts of betrayal, seduction, blackmail, and helplessness — finally leaves Savage In Limbo.